Kabuki is one of the most famous performing arts in Japan. It is said that it was originally started in Kyoto by Okuni, a priestess of the Shrine. However, when kabuki became popular in Kyoto, the courtiers of the prostitutes began to imitate their own country’s kabuki in order to attract guests, and the shogunate banned women from performing there for fear of disturbing public morals. Since then, only men who play both male and female roles have been performing kabuki.
Kabuki is a comprehensive theatre consisting of music, dance and acting. The Kabuki stage features such features as rotating the stage to quickly change scenes, installing trap doors on the floor where actors appear, and lengthening the aisles of audience seats to make the comings and goings of actors more impressive. The unique makeup applied by actors is called Kumadori.
Kabuki can be divided into three broad categories: historical plays, domestic plays, and dance pieces, and about half of what is still performed today was originally written for puppetry.
Many historical plays are based on contemporary incidents of the samurai family, but in order to avoid conflict with the censors of the Tokugawa family, they disguise the incidents a bit by setting them in a time period before the Edo period.
The domestic plays were more realistic, both in dialogue and costumes, than the historical plays. To the audience, the freshly written domestic plays, often about scandals, murders and suicides, may have seemed like news to them. Later, “kizewamono” became popular in the early 19th century. They leaned toward sensationalism, using violence, shocking subject matter, and elaborate staging.
In dance productions, it was a showcase for the talents of a first-rate female roll performer.